A non-optimized work environment costs Norway over 8.3 billion Euros per year according to a new study performed by Oslo Economics. A successful preventive work environment can converge extensive savings for both society and companies.
A non-optimised work environment means that there are conditions in the work environment that prevent the workers to produce what they would have produced otherwise, or which expose the workers to risks on injuries and work-related illnesses and diseases.
The accumulated costs are composed of different factors which influence the overall picture: increased burden of disease costs, reduced work-life participation, reduced productivity and increased health care costs, as well as calculations of life quality costs for dependents, travel and time value of money together with the overall costs of tax-financing the health care services.
Out of these over 8.3 billion Euros, the production loss for the society is estimated to be over 1,5 billion, the loss of productivity is estimated to be over 1,8 billion. The increased health care costs are estimated to be over 4.5 billion, while the other costs are estimated to be around 0,5 billion Euros.
“Although we cannot ‘save/spare’ the full economic costs, there is a rather large socio-economical potential in striving to optimize the work environment in every company in order to improve productivity”, states Pål Molander, the Director General of STAMI, the National Institute of Occupational Health in Norway.
Facts on Norwegian work life
Work-environment is related to the content of work and how the work is organized, in addition to the environment where the work is being performed. Most often work is considered a source of good health.
Over 90 percent of the Norwegian workforce is happy with their job, and over 86 percent defines that they are very often or always motivated and engaged in their job/work. Over 80 percent also indicates that they do have a very high degree, or high degree, of affiliation with the business they are working in.
Still we, in Norway, do have both industries and occupations that have work environment challenges; which underlines the continuous need for knowledge-based preventive work, activities and/or facilitation of work.
STAMI’s publication Facts on work environment and health 2018 (Faktabok om arbeidsmiljø og helse 2018) was recently launched, and this tri-annual publication states that the prevention potential in the work environment is considerable. The development of the work environment is rather stable, and from a preventive perspective, this can be interpreted as a need for extended efforts within the field. “This is how we can achieve further improvements of the work environment”, states Berit Bakke, head of the Oslo Economics department responsible for the publication.
The most considerable health issues for Norwegian workers, both in terms of prevalence and costs measured in bad health, sickness absence and disability, are musculoskeletal disorders and minor mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. The prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders was roughly the same in 2016 as twenty years ago. The prevalence of mental health disorders has risen slightly since 2009 but is at the same level as it was in 2003. In recent years, mental health disorders have become an increasingly frequent cause of both sickness absence and disability benefit claims.
A continuously higher degree of the working population works within the services sector. This is a sector which faces challenges such as emotional distress, role-conflicts and within specific occupational groups also violence, threats and harassment occur. In Norway, we do have a rather stable segment of the working population indicating the more classical exposures such as physical, chemical and biological risks as well as mechanical exposures such as contact with chemicals, noise and heavy lifting.
“The basis for an effective preventive work environment is facts and knowledge related to the actual work environment and health challenges one faces in specific occupations, branches or industries”, Bakke continues.
The work environment is all about work
“How is it possible to work well with the work environment and, at the same time, secure both a business profit and a socioeconomic benefit/revenue? By focusing, and through work related to actual requirements, being knowledge-based and handled systematically”, says Pål Molander.
The work environment is related to how the work is organized, planned and performed – and does not relate to welfare-related goods nor social activities. Saying this, one does not state that welfare-based activities or goods or the social activities does not function well as such, but they are not to be seen as work environment activities nor preventive actions to combat sickness and poor health.
Work environment differs between workplaces and thus requires unique approaches in every workplace. Overall and general solutions do not fit all. Even though the basic knowledge is generic, the solutions must be tailor-made to each business. If one is to succeed with a preventive work environment, one needs to focus on work, be knowledge-based and relate the work to actual needs rather than goodwill.
Work environment affects the health and engagement of the workers, and the company or business results. More national and international research studies demonstrate this. A good working environment having the right focus will contribute to this.
“There are many signals suggesting that quite a few of us are not aware of the evident relation between work environment, quality and productivity on a business level as well. This is a subject matter which must be moved into the boardrooms, especially now when the work life is in such a transition”, Molander concludes.